Tuesday, August 28, 2007

3600 Miles Across America

-Mambowether's shoes

Mambowether in now famous in truckstops and fast food joints from Texas to Minnesota and over to Wisconsin. Every place we stopped on our long drive people flocked to see the cute girl that squeaked. Ah, Chinese squeaky shoes, one the very best and most annoying creations to come from that Eastern land. The perfect thing to track both the direction and velocity of your young'uns. Stick them on an incredibly giggly toddler and suddenly the cuteness factor is blowing puppies and baby bunnies out of the water.

Way cute.

Summer vacation road trips. Is there anything more likely to skate the razor's edge between cherished memories and total disaster? Uh, I mean other than spending time with me out in the woods...I really miss Clark.

But back to happy thoughts! In this case it was a family reunion 1190 miles away in central Minnesota. I had three weeks of vacation stored up, what better way of spending it than packing the family and several bags of beef jerky into the Honda Pilot and driving North for three days to spend two weeks in a 120-year old farmhouse with one bathroom shared with 10-16 other family members in a town I left twenty years ago?

Wow, nothing like a run-on sentence to move the plot along.

Sidenote: two weeks is a long, painful time to keep one's gut sucked in...and I never did cross paths with any high school flames.

So, what was the trip like? Glad you asked (though maybe it was just the voices in my head that asked, but you'll just have to sit through the answer now, won't you?)

In past, pre-Mambowether long road trips we usually just stick "Cinderella" in the portable DVD player and drive until someone had to, er, *unload*. It was a fast, painfree way to cross long distances. However, one should always test the DVD player a few days before such a trip to make sure it's working. They can be very fragile items.

Speaking from experience here folks!

So, after that disaster we decided never again to rely on such unreliable entertainment to passivate our kids. When telling others of our movie-free plan to cross this great country the usual response was disbelief and questions of our sanity, followed by internal playback by the commenter of past experiences with me, then silence, then the comment, "Uh, nevemind...".

It's sad how our civilization has lost its ability to be amused by anything other than passively watching images on a screen. So, without further delay, I'd like to offer new parents tips on keeping the kids happy on a long car trips, thereby allowing them to see America rather than quickly (and expensively!) fly over it.

Note: I have no financial incentive to share these tips with you (damn it). It's just stuff Misseswether and I found that kept the girls happy.

1. Crayola "Color Wonder" paper and markers. These things make a chemist weep. Imagine the technologhy invovled in markers which only leave marks on the special paper. Miniwether spent hours drawing pictures of her and Spiderman having tea with The Batman. Sidenote: she got pretty upset when I told her it was impossible for her to have tea with both of them as Spiderman is from the Marvel Universe and The Batman is DC. On the other hand this was a good opening for me to teach her about the Many Worlds interpetation of quantum mechanics. I think she didn't catch all it's nuances, though.

2. Leapfrog "Leapster" coupled with the Disney Princess game cartidge. Yep, nothing like using questionable role models to trick your kids into learning spellling and math. Um, boys might prefer a different game (though there's nothing wrong with them liking the Disney Princesses. I mean let's face it, Ariel is HOT, um, for someone half-fish).

3. Handheld electronic game with flashing lights and beepy noise bought from the Salvation Army store for 99-cents. This was great at letting Mambowether mimic her older sister playing with the above-mentioned Leapster. Contented cooing, giggles, and strange techno-beebly noises make a wonderful soundtrack to the nation passing by.

4. McDonald's play areas. Need to wear the kids out? Nothing works better than loading them up with meat and complex carbs then chasing them through a maze for half an hour. They'll sleep for hours after that.

5. Maker's Mark Whiskey. For when McDonalds isn't enough to knock the kids out. JOKING!!!!!

6. A map: Kids like to feel important as well as learn new things. A little ceremony when crossing a state lines adds to the fun. Sidenote: The ceremony probably shouldn't include yelling the line "Hey, we aren't to far away to turn around and go home so you never see your cousins!".

7. Big pieces of paper that can be torn into smaller pieces of paper. Is there anyone who doesn't find random acts of destruction soothing? Lord knows it'll keep an 18-month old happy for 20 minutes or more.

8. Snacks. Sometimes lack of sugar is what ails a kid.

9. An AWESOME big sister. Miniwether's love of Mambowether really showed through on this trip. She'd make funny faces and sounds, retrive toys, and give snacks to Mambowether at the first hint of Mambo's unhappiness. Dang, we got great kids!

10. The "Look Out The Window" rule. Parents should point out any interesting things they see along the drive, however they should not get upset if the children refuse to look. There are thousands of things to see in this life. Missing something here or there is NOT a big deal.

And now for a few other tips for parents consdering following our path.
1. Dallas traffic sucks, but driving straight through it on I-45 on to Hwy 75 worked pretty well. Granted, this tip really only applies to a small sub-group of readers. The next will apply to ALL new parents.

2. Teach your kids how to go potty in the Great Outdoors. Once a child is potty trained if can be suprisingly difficult to convince him/her that putting poop in a hole in the ground is okay under certain circumstances. From there it's an easy step up to going potty into a plastic shopping bag (check for holes first!). Trust me, if you are thirty miles from anywhere or worse the only toilet option is the Shell station outside Denten, TX the ability to just go in a bag is really, really useful!!

3. When 16 people have to use the same bathroom, stack a case of toilet paper right there. And don't even start the whole lid up/lid down argument!

Well, that's enough preaching for a while, let's see the pictures!

Why we went.

The bonding of first and last.

drivedrivedrive.jpg drivedrive2.jpg

Long story, let's just simplify it to "Love".

Our daily bread (or in this case corn on the cob, watermelon, and various types of meat).

Enough teeth for corn!


A day on the banks of the Crow River (it really does exist!).

And a lot of frogs live in it.

Minnesota has a lot of pretty water.

Misseswether shows the inlaws another reason to give her dibs on the bathroom (scored 200 out of 220 points!)

Six boys (plus another two neighbor boys), eight bicycles, three BB-guns, five 2x4's, three sheets of plywood, one old wagon, 1/4 acre to roam and not a single broken bone or lost tooth the whole two weeks.

Mambowether doing the Muddy Hustle (or, what happens when it rains while daddy is in charge).

Miniwether really loves bugs. Sidenote: The Children's Museum of Minnesota is AWESOME. Go there.

Being Turtle.

Going underground.

Crystal Cave in Wisconsin. Fun when I was a child, fun now as a dad.

Mambowether the Adventurer.

The last picture was taken in the woods on the edge of town. When I was a kid it was all trees and dirt paths worn by children. Now these paths have been paved and the trees have been pushed back a 'safe" distance. While walking these new trails I had the following discussion with Miniwether:
Mini: When are we going into woods? You said we'd go into the woods!
Me: We are in the woods.
Mini: No, I mean the real woods!
Me: You know, you're right. Let's go!
And then Miniwether, Mambowether and I left the civilized path and spent two hours tromping through brambles and over fallen trees, eating wild plums, and following deer tracks.

Damn, I have a great life!

*Note: Clark has not died in some borderland excursion. He and the family moved last Saturday which will greatly curtail our adventuring together.

Adventure! Excitement! Long Roads!


Anonymous said...

I just found your site last week while researching the 4-C trail and really enjoy all I have read thus far. Thanks! Having lived in Houston for 2 years now, loving the outdoors, craving adventure, being an engineer in the oil & gas industry, and in general hurting myself alot, I can really relate. Did I mention I write a mean run-on sentence?

The crow river doesnt look too bad in your picture...haha.


Merriwether the Adventurer said...


I have yet to meet an engineer who doesn't write run-on sentences. :-)
I think of them as the verbal equivelants of a complex mathmatical formula.

You'll find Houston has a lot of hidden outdoorsy activities to offer, especially if you have a high tolerance for pain.